the frequency a kenny chung blog

Google offices
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The internet has been abuzz the past week over a 10-page anti-diversity “manifesto” written by recently terminated Google employee James Damore. On the surface, the uproar seems reasonable, but I’m going to argue that it’s for the wrong reasons.

I’ve ruminated on whether or not to address this topic, because it’s clear that the writer’s firing has resulted in a chilling effect (within and without Google). I’ve considered the consequences of having current or future employers reading these thoughts, but at the end of the day, this is a mass comm blog and I believe this is a media issue. That said, of course everything I write here reflects my own personal opinions. I cannot emphasize that enough.

Here’s my main gripe with the coverage around this story – the media carelessly ran away with it, throwing nuance and context to the wind, all so it would fit more neatly in a black and white narrative.

How many people reading these stories are aware of the source of the manifesto? I would assert that it’s the minority. That’s because click-hungry journalists would have you believe that the former Googler unsolicitedly sent this 10 page document to his entire team/company. And that’s simply not true. The reality is he posted it on a private internal Google Group meant to discuss “controversial” ideas openly, and invited feedback/criticism. The author included footnotes and embedded links to abstracts to support his points. You can read it in full context here: Journalists copied/pasted portions in plain-text, stripping it of its context, making the content seem more unsubstantiated (to their credit, Vice was one of the few to post the entire memo unedited).

The overuse of the term “manifesto” is also inherently problematic. Unless you’re following UK politics, it’s a term most commonly associated with communists or serial killers/mass murderers. As of today, we’re coming up on 1,000 individual articles that refer to it as a “manifesto” within their headlines (and that’s not counting those that only do so in the body copy):

Google News results for James Damore Manifesto
Google News screenshot, accessed Aug 11, 2017

I want to make it clear that I am not tacitly endorsing the creation of such a document or the ideas therein (in fact, there are many logical fallacies and conclusions to which the jump was a bit too far). It’s also been years since my last sociology and evolutionary biology courses, so I won’t fact-check the citations either. I’m not saying that tech doesn’t have gender inequality and harassment issues (Uber has provided us with more than enough examples). But I am making the point that if someone posts a working version of a dissenting opinion that others disagree with on a safe space meant to discuss such ideas, then the most logical next step would be to debate the validity of those statements and provide evidence to the contrary. Present compelling counter-arguments such that the author can revise his thesis (and maybe ultimately change his way of thinking). Instead, what Googlers did was violate their non-disclosure agreements to share the document publicly, much to the detriment of the author and to Google as a company.

This is extremely bad timing for Google.

It would be ill-advised to ignore the larger Google context. At the moment, the Department of Labor is investigating Google for a purported gender pay gap. The 3,300 word manifesto ends with a criticism of Google’s internal biases with regard to hiring. Other commentators have posited that Google fired Damore because if they hadn’t, their inaction could be used against them in future discrimination lawsuits. It may seem farfetched, but the logic holds water – an employee writes about Google’s biases; Google takes no action, which could be construed as an implicit acknowledgement of said biases.

The media echo-chamber of pitchforks certainly forced Google’s hand to take immediately action. What would’ve otherwise been a confidential and internal matter became a national one.

I’m not an HR specialist, and neither are you (probably).

What’s most important is what happened behind closed doors when Damore was fired. Was it solely the manifesto that led to his firing? Or was there a pattern of violating anti-discrimination laws? He was a senior engineer after all, and presumably had influence on who was hired. The thing is we don’t know, so it’s difficult to say whether or not his firing was justified, based on what’s been presented in the media. In either case, it seems like he might pursue legal action against Google.

But let’s also get one important thing out of the way:

This is not a free speech issue.

Far too often, people conflate “freedom of speech” with a guaranteed right to say anything in all situations. That’s a fundamental misunderstanding of the First Amendment. Freedom of speech means that the government cannot censor citizens, within specific confines (e.g. you cannot endanger others in exercising your speech).

Where the lines blend is when Google states companywide that their goal is to foster “a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions.” The next sentence in the announcement goes on to say that any opinions need to fit within their Code of Conduct.

But here’s the rub – in the manifesto (a part that many journalists don’t include in their stories), the author includes a caveat that you cannot judge individuals based on generalized gender trait differences. This point is made several times in varying language. Nowhere does the author say that women are inferior employees (a talking point parroted by many pundits). I will note that there is one bullet where he mentions Google’s hiring practices with regard to “diversity” hires lowers the bar, but it’s in conjunction with a private internal link so it’s not possible to determine how that point was substantiated (and if it’s focused on gender, ethnicity, or both). To paraphrase, his thesis is that due to societal influences, men generally seek more leadership roles and the way these roles are positioned is not as appealing to a plurality of women. I’m not going to argue for or against the merit of these statements (or their logic), but they’re definitely valid topics for debate. Except they weren’t debated, which is the key problem.

A leaked survey of 282 Googlers showed that only 30% thought the document shouldn’t have been created:

On diversity hiring.

Quotas are a touchy subject. One of my previous employers sought to reach gender ratios, seemingly irrespective of supply and demand and the overall pool of candidates. I didn’t agree with that approach then, and I still don’t think it’s fruitful now.

The system I do believe in is actively including more diversity candidates in the consideration set, which would mathematically increase your quantity of diversity hires without artificially increasing the rate (given similar levels of proficiency and qualifications).

The topic of quotas also touches upon a separate issue that’s been in the news lately – Asian Americans taking issue against affirmative action. I won’t comment on the validity of that argument either as it would be a much longer essay, but it’s safe to say that a lot of people are against quota systems that exist for the optics of diversity. It seems we may be reaching an inflection point on the practice, for better or for worse.

Back to public shaming.

I’ve written about social media outrage before. Jon Ronson (author of the 2015 book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed) likens social media to the new town square, where you can pin scarlet letters on people and ruin their lives. The book also ironically includes a chapter about using SEO for reputation management within Google results.

I believe this whole manifesto situation is just the latest on the long list of examples where the public has crucified an individual, egged on by the media.

And that’s why I chose a purposefully sensationalistic title on this blog post. It seems that in an attention-deficit, hair-triggered, social media-empowered world we find ourselves in, the most offensive thing is to have a nuanced opinion. If I’ve pissed off both sides of the debate, then I’ll happily accept that badge with pride.

Note: The majority of this post was written before Google CEO Sundar Pichai was meant to host a town hall discussing diversity within the company. The meeting was cancelled due to online threats.

If 2015 was any indication, people still care about movies. Total domestic gross was $11.1 billion. The top three movies were all record-breaking sequels (Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, Jurassic World, and The Avengers: Age of Ultron). And despite declining viewership, the 88th Academy Awards still drew over 34 million sets of eyeballs.

Movies vs. Netflix

Although the effect on the movie industry hasn’t been as radical as it was for TV, new modes of entertainment delivery (e.g. Netflix) are changing the ways that consumers view media and its role in everyday life.

Consider the following chart that shows the average movie gross vs. Netflix subscriptions:

Average movie gross vs. Netflix Subscriptions

Source: Misix

It’s a loose correlation at best, but what’s clear is that fewer people are paying for movie tickets. Of course, that chart doesn’t include the phenomenon that was Star Wars, but the yearly trendline still stands. With advanced technology, the home can very well be a pleasant movie-going experience (or I suppose, more accurately, a movie-staying one).

With the always-on, instant gratification prospect of streaming, it only makes sense that the studios are always playing catchup. It’s a fine balancing act between determining how soon to release movies on home media. Of course, streaming services are also delayed in getting the latest releases, but the difference in waiting an extra week with the benefit of not having to go out to a big box store to pick up the latest movie sure is enticing. And with the benefit of a gigantic back catalog of TV shows and movies, consumers can easily keep themselves entertained in the interim.

Theater to DVD wait times

A chart showing decreasing time between theater releases to DVD releases from this reddit thread 3 years ago.

Mapping Oscar Search Trends to Consumption Habits

The Academy Awards, however, present us with a unique opportunity to identify how users are searching for movies in real time. It stands to reason that the award-winners will garner the highest levels of interest, with the general public wanting to watch said movies.

The first step, then, is to figure out what qualifiers or search terms people usually append to movie titles. Based on this set of keywords associated with 2016 Oscar winners, we can chart the data thusly:

Movie Consumption Methods by Search Volume

With the exception of “DVD”, the distribution of searches greatly skews toward illegal (or potentially illegal) viewing methods.

Using Google Trends, we can see that the hourly trends generally show that around the point of impact (Oscar winners being announced), there is a significant spike in searches in all of these types of searches. However, as time goes on, the searches that stay on top are typically explicitly illicit (e.g. Torrent) or vaguely so (e.g. Download).


Best Picture
Best Original Screenplay

The Revenant

Best Director
Best Actor in a Leading Role
Best Cinematography


Best Actress

The Danish Girl

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Bridge of Spies

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Inside Out

Best Animated Feature Film

The Big Short

Best Adapted Screenplay

Ex Machina

Best Visual Effects

Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Film Editing
Best Costume Design
Best Production Design
Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Best Sound Editing
Best Sound Mixing

What does this mean for media distributors?

The obvious takeaway is that during awards ceremonies, movie studios or streaming services should bid on movie names + modifiers (budget permitting) since that may very well be the highest traffic and sales opportunity for home media (this likely also applies to music awards shows). The studios/services should customize their messaging to match the event, and also optimize all aspects of their organic presence as well. Ranking well for all on-brand “download” and “DVD” terms is a no-brainer, as well as for shopping, video and image engines.

On the surface, it might make sense to add “torrent” as a negatives in paid campaigns, but if people aren’t looking to pay, then they won’t click on your ad anyway. And you run the possibility of being able to capture clicks if there are no viable illegal viewing options available. For example, if you’re a service like Amazon Prime that does several-day rentals, then tout the benefits of the low cost and the convenience. Give people a reason to pay a few dollars for an authentic copy, because any friction is going to drive users to the simplest option, which is typically the most illegal.

Steve Buscemi Fellow Kids joke on 30 Rock

If you watch 30 Rock religiously, then you’re probably aware of the origins of the “fellow kids” meme that’s been making its rounds on the internet for a few years now. It’s a screengrab from an episode where guest star Steve Buscemi plays a private detective who at some point infiltrated a high school by pretending to be a student:

That joke has taken a life of its own, with reddit at the forefront of proliferating references to it. The term “fellow kids” was adopted as a pejorative shorthand for brands and advertisers trying to relate to millennials using slang or memes (often to cringeworthy results). As of this writing, the subreddit /r/FellowKids has over 62,000 subscribers, this author inclusive.

A few notable examples:

Mountain Dew saying Bae on Twitter

Microsoft handing out shibe doge meme fliers at their Windows 10 Conference

WhatABurger Tweeting dank memes

Sources: reddit, @BrandsSayingBae

Should Your Brand Be Using “Dank Memes”?

The short answer is “no.” The longer answer is “maybe, but only in very rare circumstances”. By definition, memes take a life of their own, and a brand trying to align with that messaging is essentially giving up some creative control. The term “dank memes” is itself a reference to marijuana culture.

When social media “gurus” post memes that they don’t fully understand, not only does it open the brand up for ridicule, but it can also negatively affect brand messaging. And because you can write a textbook and debate for days on the genesis and true meaning of specific memes (KnowYourMeme has created an entire website on trying to crowdsource explanations for them), it’s often safer to just stay away from using memes on brand channels.

One of the most egregious examples of a brand misusing memes is Truth (the anti-smoking coalition). Their latest ad campaigns are chock full of popular memes. Here’s one of their current commercials:

Let’s only briefly touch on the fact that the “it’s a trap” meme is a reference to trolling straight men with photos of women who are later revealed to be transgender. This reinterpretation of the now-famous line from Return of the Jedi originated on 4chan (naturally). It would have literally taken 30 seconds of research for Truth’s creatives to figure out that it was probably not the best tagline to base a campaign around. The rest of the commercial misuses several memes and shoehorns them into their anti-smoking messaging.

Can memes ever be used properly?

Yes, but it’s a minefield. Here are a few pointers for getting it right:

  1. Understand the memes
    There’s no quicker way to show the world you’re out of touch than by misappropriating Internet culture. A simple search on Know Your Meme or Urban Dictionary should be the first stop for anyone trying to leverage memes or youth slang.
  2. Don’t force it
    I cannot stress this enough. If it doesn’t fit your brand to be using sophomoric memes, then don’t use them! Does it make sense for Mike Huckabee to be using a meme related to gangsta rap to reach potential voters? Absolutely not.
  3. Don’t try to create memes
    I cannot tell you how many meetings I’ve been in where people’s ideas of a successful social media or creative campaign is “to go viral”. Going viral is a result of a good campaign, not the goal. You can’t control it, and you definitely shouldn’t start your own meme. You’ll seem like you’re trying too hard and there will be backlash from the /r/HailCorporate crowd. Don’t do what Lunchables attempted:

    Lunchables trying to create their own meme

  4. You can’t change the meaning of memes, so don’t try
    Trying to co-opt a meme is at best guaranteed to fail, and at worst, it’ll create a backlash. Especially when you try to co-opt an organic meme like Bagel Bites tried to.
  5. Use the right message for the right channel
    This is more of a general marketing tip, but it still applies when we’re talking about memes. The things you can get away with on Facebook are different from what you can do in a magazine ad, or a TV commercial. If something’s worth sharing, put it on a network that facilitates sharing. Don’t do this:

    Target says holla in an email

  6. Be timely.
    Like most trends on the internet, memes have a relatively short shelf life. That means you should stop referencing Gangnam Style no matter how funny you still think it is. This also makes it dangerous to create costly television spots that reference memes if you don’t plan on refreshing your creative. Here’s a great example of the GOP trying to use an old meme and being called out by the Democratic Party:

    GOP and Democratic Party on using memes on Twitter

Brands Doing It Right

Some brands get it right. Old Spice created some of the most viral commercials of the last decade. WWE consistently becomes the top trending hashtag during their live events. I saw this cat commercial as a pre-roll on YouTube once and didn’t skip it. Count that as a success.

More recently, Domino’s created a campaign where you could order a pizza through various devices, including via emoji. On paper, it sounds like a decent stunt but also potentially FellowKids territory if not done right. Domino’s understood that millennials are fluent in irony and the tongue-in-cheek tone they took in their commercials was spot on:

Outside Of Your Control

Internet, grant me the serenity to accept the memes I cannot change, the courage to use the memes I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Sometimes you simply can’t predict what will go viral. The internet is both a fickle and crushing machine.

Dos Equiis created a great mascot and tagline with the most interesting man in the world and years later, are now reaping the rewards for its memeworthiness.

There’s an incredibly strange and cult-like subreddit called /r/Kelloggs devoted to their cereal brands to the point where users honestly don’t know if it’s a joke or not.

And most recently, “Netflix and Chill” has become one of the most commonplace memes, especially among Black Twitter (a subject for a different blog post). It refers to young people (typically men) inviting other people over to watch Netflix and “chill” as the pretext for engaging in sexual activity. The phrase proliferated on social media and has become one of the best things to happen for Netflix’s brand recognition. All this without Netflix lifting a finger.

Lastly, when in doubt…

…err on the side of not looking stupid. This is probably a good life lesson in general, but if you don’t understand a social media phenomenon and aren’t willing to pay someone who does, then just forego it altogether. Having your target audience perceive your brand as stupid is not a place you want to be.

SEJ Summit NYC 2015

I was invited to the 2015 SEJSummit in NYC hosted by Searchmetrics. It was unique in that they advertised zero vendor pitches, just content. And they definitely delivered on that promise. The day was jam-packed with 8 speakers, talking about a wide variety of topics ranging from content strategy to user tracking to mobile SEO. Each presentation was meant to have 3 Takeaways, presented at the beginning and recapped at the end. Below are my notes and liveTweets of the presentations, separated by presentation topic:

“Thinking Outside of the Text Box: 6 Ways to Increase the Life of Your Content” with Kelsey Jones (Search Engine Journal)

We kicked off the day with some fresh content marketing ideas. Kelsey’s presentation mainly focused on ways to leverage existing content and either spin it or repurpose it into different formats or social networks. Some of the tips were things we should all know (guest blog, syndicate content, etc.), but there were a lot of good ideas for other channels. Slideshare, for example, was mentioned a lot as a new way to present existing content to a different audience.

Podcasts surprisingly make up almost 26% of all audio consumed (that’s across all media devices including cars), which is an astounding number. Sometimes, it’s worth altering the format of your information since people prefer different consumption behaviors (e.g. the Oregon DMV offers an audio version of their driving manual). You can also turn long-form written content into short-form podcasts. One example was Frommer’s (known for their travel guides) creating short bite-sized podcast episodes focusing on very specific locations within a country.

For videos, there were also a few ideas. For example, NewEgg creates videos for breaking news stories, which is often quicker than writing them up. This allows them to be first to publish, and then they turn the content into longer, written posts.

Lastly, one metric Kelsey touched upon was that syndicating content elsewhere can lead to an 180% increase in email subscribers. The logic here is that if a new audience sees your content, they’ll seek out the author or company who puts it out (assuming the content is worthwhile).

“The Social Future” with Peter Shankman (Geek Factory Inc.)

Peter Shankman’s presentation was more free-form, with no deck. It was focused on customer service in the digital world, and if there was one major takeaway, it was that you don’t need to be the best at customer service; you only need to be “several levels above crap.” The point being most companies are terrible at social media and online service, so you only need to be better than they are.

One recurring theme of the summit was about the usefulness of social media metrics, or lack thereof. Peter postulated that the idea of big brands chasing social media Follows, Friends, Fans and Likes is going away because it doesn’t follow natural human behavior, and they aren’t useful to report on. People want to interact with people they know, and not necessarily with brands. He also mentioned that Yelp was dead (or soon to be) because other social networks are more useful for recommendations. I took issue with this one, because like I’ve written about two years ago, Yelp is a social network.

Peter provided his four rules for better customer communications. Rule #1 was to be transparent. It’s inevitable that screwups will happen. Brands should own up to them, rather than trying to sweep them under the rug. Using a real life example, he said we should aspire to be like Eliot Spitzer (he apologized and is now accepted back in the mainstream) and not to be Anthony Weiner (who tried desperately for damage control). [sic] in my Tweet of Weiner’s name, by the way. A great quote from Peter was that “the best lover is a former hater”, meaning if you can turn someone around, they will become your greatest brand advocate.

Rule #2 is to find out how your audience wants to receive information and deliver it to them that way. He told a story about a company that gave thank you gifts in the form of a coffee table book, but through a simple survey, he helped them figure out that the majority of customers preferred online content. So with that simple change, they not only saved money on printing books, but also increased their rate of donations.

Rule #3 is to focus on brevity. Brands have an average of 2.7 seconds to reach their audience. After that, their attention will be gone. Peter advised anyone involved with corporate communications to take an improv class, as it will positively affect the way they speak, and help you get to the point.

Rule #4 is to talk to people even when you don’t need anything. Sometimes it just pays to be top of mind. Peter told us the story of Barry Diller, a former CEO of Paramount during the 70s and 80s. One of his keys to success was to call people just to speak to them and ask if they needed help with anything, rather than just calling when he needed a favor. In turn, under his watch, Paramount became the most successful motion picture house of its time.

“3 Red Hot Social Marketing Hacks To Crush in 2015” with Daniel Morrison (aimClear)

Usually at marketing conferences, there are only one or two presentations that have super clearly defined actionable takeaways. Luckily, SEJSummit had three of them (in a row!). The first was from Daniel Morrison, who was a quant through and through. I took the most notes from his presentation, which focused on leveraging psychographics to enrich your remarketing data/lists.

Daniel outlined three steps for improving your data pool:

  • Inject psychographic data into your audience list
  • Cookie them with retargeting pixels (as first party data)
  • Nurture/convert them with remarketing/RLSA (remarketing lists for search ads).

In order to create the best personas, Daniel recommended layering in active intent filters (the types of people specifically looking to do something, which directly/indirectly ties to a conversion for your brand) as well as taking a dual root approach (creating target segments based on multiple criteria, such as behavior and financial qualifiers).

He also recommended tagging campaign URLs with UTM codes so they can feed into remarketing list rules. He provided three real-world examples of successful campaigns. The first was a tire reseller who increased sales by 22% by bidding higher for users who had previously visited the homepage. The second was a vacation tour company that increased conversation rates by 300% by bidding on broad “gift” terms on people who had previously made a purchase. And the last was a telecom company (with TV, voice and internet services) who decreased CPO by 66% by serving custom ad copy based on the services that the users subscribed to.

There was also talk of setting frequency caps based on the type of service and the typical life cycle, but I’ll touch upon that at the end of the next recap.

“Harnessing the Awesome Power of Identity-Based PPC Marketing” with Larry Kim (WordStream)

Larry Kim is the founder of WordStream, and I’ve had the fortune of listening in on one of his webinars before. His presentation at SEJSummit was full of hyperbole, but his conviction to and expertise in the topic was something to behold. According to Larry, identity-based PPC marketing was the biggest evolution in both paid search and email marketing.

Simply put, identity-based marketing (or people-based marketing) is the ability to target specific users by some sort of unique identifier (email address, phone number, Twitter handle, etc.). By targeting groups of curated individuals, you avoid some of the pitfalls of traditional PPC and email marketing efforts. Firstly, there are no inventory constraints as there are with email blasts, and it is harder to unsubscribe because targeted paid ads are just about everywhere (not sure if this is good or bad for the consumer…). Secondly, it makes it easier to increase your potential target pools while maintaining quality, as you can clone your audience lists using tools like Facebook’s lookalike audiences.

Larry also brought up some real-world examples of his. In one instance, he blogged about a topic on a Friday afternoon and didn’t expect much press coverage. So he ran a Twitter campaign aimed at target influencers, and it was picked up by a large publication shortly thereafter. Another example was for a conference at which he was presenting. He created an audience list based on people in the location of the event within the relevant industry.

During the Q&A session, an audience member asked Larry and Daniel about frequency caps. Larry advised that marketers be aggressive with caps as they are rarely met. And in cases where ad fatigue occurs (which means fewer clicks), the corollary is that the conversion rate for users who actually click through actually increases.

“Big Brands, Mobile SEO and You” with John Shehata (Conde Nast)

I briefly worked with John when he was my ABC News client toward the end of my time at Morpheus Media. He’s an opinionated and clever guy, and his presentation was focused on optimizing websites for mobile. In it, he dispelled some misconceptions about mobile best practices. The major one was that responsive design is not always the most mobile-friendly solution for large sites. Google did not outright say that responsive is the best; they only stated that responsive is better than a strictly desktop experience. The most common alternative is a dedicated mobile site (e.g. m-dot), which leads to all sorts of organizational content issues. The third way is dynamic serving, which displays different HTML/CSS based on user agent. The main benefit is page load speed. John stated that 80-90% of site speed issues are on the front-end, and now that load time is a mobile ranking factor, it makes the most sense to start there. Another stat he quoted was to aim for a 1 second page load for all mobile content above the fold. If optimized rendering can be utilized to allow that content to load first, it is preferable.

John also mentioned that Google will start penalizing app download interstitials (on-page popups on mobile sites that ask the prompt users to download the site’s app instead). The best practice here is to use banners instead. For the future, it’s not outside the realm of possibility (and may actually be very likely) that Google’s stance will extend to all sorts of mobile interstitials and popups, regardless of intent.

One last useful bit of information was about the purpose of googlebot-mobile. It is not the standard mobile crawler. Instead, it is the crawler that Google uses for “feature phones”, which were the precursor to smartphones (think slide or flip phones with limited internet browsers). The standard Googlebot is that one that crawls for mobile.

“SEO Reporting in the Enterprise: Information is Power” with AJ Mihalic (Ayima)

Admittedly, this is the point of the summit where my attention was split between the presentations and some urgent client work, so my notes became a bit sparse. AJ of Ayima spoke about SEO reporting for enterprise clients. He championed graphical interpretations of data, rather than tabular formats. He also recommended utilizing some sort of “EKG” dashboard in order to monitor site health preemptively, instead of waiting for Google Search Console/Webmaster Tools to identify issues because at that point, the problem will have existed for days, if not weeks. In order to do this, AJ mentioned a few methods of early detection. One would be to look at the status codes that your website is returning. If an increase in 404s occurs, it may reflect a redirect problem. Another would be to look at a server log of which pages Googlebot is crawling. Your tech team is your friend for all of these things.

AJ also echoed an approach that I’d heard before at the last SEO meetup I attended, which was to optimize for metrics that will get your clients (or their bosses) promoted. Those are likely the most effective KPIs for your agency work.

“Increasing Your Content IQ” with Jordan Koene (Searchmetrics)

Jordan spoke about how to choose content topics, leverage competitive insights, and about the importance of content recall. On content topics: brands and agencies often have tunnel vision when it comes to keywords. Brands should embrace the image that they’ve cultivated instead of trying to redefine themselves in a way that runs counter to how searchers view them. The websites that brands view as competitors may not be the same ones that are actual competitors. One example was Toyota. Their search competitor for a lot of terms isn’t GM, it’s local Toyota dealerships. Once they added “Official” to all of their site page titles, SEO traffic increased 20%.

Content recall is also important. The topics or themes to which users associate your brand are hard to shake, and may not exactly sync up with your goals. For example, eBay has tried to become a marketplace for luxury goods, but users continue to associate the site with a secondhand garage sale image. One random and interesting stat – there are more used/broken phones of any single iPhone model for sale on eBay than listings for all new phones combined.

“Content Marketing: Success by Design” with Eric Enge (Stone Temple Consulting)

Eric’s presentation was mainly about measuring for SEO successes. Without quantification of goals, any content creation is worthless. Eric’s recipe for content marketing success is to build you reputation, grow visibility, grow your audience, and get links.

By measuring your own successes and comparing to your competitors, it becomes easier to identify which areas need improvement in order to overtake them in organic rankings. For example, a site that recently outranked yours may have recently acquired a high authority link. Your goal should be to receive a link of similar equity, if not more. Rankings are incremental; you should be trying to leapfrog over the listing directly above you, rather than aiming for #1 every time. Eric recommended using Open Site Explorer, Majestic SEO and ahrefs for backlink reporting.

It’s been a while since I’d been to an SEO meetup (it seems like all of the big players stopped running them), so I was delighted to see a great panel sponsored by Yext. There were a few good industry friends, as well as other talented folks. The full lineup was:

  • Mike King, Founder & Digital Marketing Consultant at
  • Matt Ramos, Product Manager at LocalVox
  • Rhea Drysdale, CEO at Outspoken Media
  • David Minchala, SEO Manager at Yodle

There was a ton of great information, especially about personas and personalization. Below is my liveTweet coverage of the meetup:

If you’re running a large agency that can’t write localized content for every region, it makes sense to broadly define which topics you should cover (either based on current performance or what the top ranking sites have) and then have subject matter experts write specific local content. This is far better than just repurposing the same content for every region.

Paid search can tell you very quickly if people are actually searching for a specific topic in a region.

Sometimes, curating content provides enough value for Google to rank your site well. However, you must, must, must provide some sort of value otherwise you risk duplicate content penalties.

Track users throughout their customer journey so you can better attribute eventual conversions. Each touchpoint should have specific goals that lead to the main site conversion. Optimizing for each touchpoint allows you to help move consumers along.

The above should actually say “consumer life cycle”. Depending on your industry, you may want to track users throughout their anticipated cycle of use to see when potential dropoffs occur.

Browser fingerprints allow you to identify specific users, or specific subsets of users. If you track specific groups over time and set page values, it will help you refine your conversion path and user goals.

This is a good one. If your client doesn’t know what their KPIs should be, find out what their boss is judged on, and start from there. Very good advice for any type of marketing initiative.

Three of the four panelists agreed that the next big thing in SEO is personalization. Google will be able to show and tell you what you need before you tell them. Google Now is an example of this.

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